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When to hire your first product person?

I have been talking to few startups and this is a common theme that keeps coming up, so I wanted to write this down.

  1. Dont hire because you can:

The absolute worst kind of hires for any company is when they don’t require one at all. This often happens for fancy roles like - PM, growth marketer, generalist, business strategist etc. You don’t need people that stay in your company for a title. You have no requirement to have a product team to write a product specification documents, to plan sprints simply because your peers are doing this.

  1. Dont hire when you need someone to figure this out:

You raised some money or you are promised some money & now you are looking for someone to build with you, but you don’t know what that something is. It is your product, you have to have a sense of what might be your grand vision. More often than not, PMs get called CEOs, there are those that stand by this tag & others that don’t. I belong to the latter. It is your grand vision that someone with product sense will help execute. Don’t harp on people to build for you.

  1. Dont hire for someone to keep tabs for you:

A lot of first time founders or non seasoned technical founders will want to hire someone that understands tech enough to keep tabs on engineers. They want someone to look at tasks, write a non elaborate spec doc & check in with the management. You don’t need a product person, you want a project manager. Please dont confuse the functions & hire people that can rock a JIRA/Clubhose board if that is what you want.

Wait, if I am telling you when not to hire, maybe I should also tell you when you should hire one :)

  1. Hire when you have PM fit:

You have scaled enough to know there is traction, there is demand & definitely a market for what your product can do. You are struggling to know what you should prioritize and build, however you have things in the pipeline that you would like to try & all your customers are eager for it.

  1. Hire when you are the roadblock:

As founders you are the forefront of what needs to be done & how it needs to be done. You have expertise, knowledge & customer conversations to keep your head in the game, but now you ned help. You need another product person to bounce your ideas & execute on your behalf, you are wearing too many hats & now you would like someone else to try it.

  1. Hire when your team seems to tell you:

Probably not to your face, but your team will begin showing you signs. The engineering team will face gross miscommunication because there aren’t proper documentations, the customer support team will push for a feature that almost noone uses & the data is in your face, the testing team will not be synced with what is in production, the business/sales folks were never given status updates & your marketing team has no idea of what you are building. This is when you hire your product person. But, wait does that mean you hire everyone before you hire your PM?

Not always, maybe most of these functions were being handled by you, as founder & now they are getting too much & you need someone to come in and handle this for you. Not to take it off your hands, PM is not a fixer of all things but sometimes you need data, structure, A/B tests, user tests, better NPS and better documentation to keep your startup sane & healthy that is when you get your first zero to one product person.

How do you plan to make your first hire or how did you make it? Did you carefully consider this critical hire? Do you think you would hire a senior person, or a junior eager to learn the ropes. Every hire brings potential questions Id love to know how you navigate through this. Let me know on twitter :)

Published 1 Apr 2020

Always looking for learning opportunities in product and life.
Vindhya C on Twitter